Not only have Julie and Martin Weckerlein of Julie and Martin been married for almost a decade–they’ve been blogging about military family life even longer. And they have the distinction of both having been military spouses for one another. And now Julie is the servicemember and Martin is the military spouse, offering us a great chance to hear from a male military spouse!
What topics do you write about on your blog?
Julie: Our site started in the summer of 2001, when I was a public affairs Airman stationed in Germany, engaged to Martin, who was a German tank commander in the Bundeswehr at the time.
Martin: But we had met when Julie was a high school foreign exchange student in Nuremberg. That always surprises people. Julie was lucky to be stationed at Ramstein Air Base as her first duty station. It brought her close to me, so our relationship grew from there.
Julie: We were planning a big traditional wedding, and we both come from large, scattered families, so the website was a way for my family in the states and his family around Germany to follow along with our wedding plans. But then the terrorist attacks on 9/11 happened and our site took on a new role as friends and family wanted to stay connected to us as our respective militaries responded to that.
Martin: My Bundeswehr unit was deployed to provide security support for Army bases in our area of Bavaria.
Julie: And my public affairs office at Ramstein got very busy once U.S. forces started deploying to Afghanistan. So not only did we continue writing about bridesmaid dresses and centerpieces for the wedding, but we started sharing the military side of our lives, too.
Martin: When we did finally get married, we got so many emails asking us not to stop the site. We moved to our next base in Italy and had our first daughter there, so we wrote about the baby. And traveling. I started playing football, so we posted about that.
Julie: It’s evolved over the years. We’ve changed hosting sites a few times; the design’s been updated, but it is has always been a reflection of our lives as a military family. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Now we are living in the Washington DC area with two daughters and another baby on the way. We’re both juggling careers and family and my military service. And all along, we just keep updating and sharing our lives with photos, video and some insight and humor.
What is a favorite post of yours?
Julie: Do I have to list just one? All the posts Martin wrote while I was deployed in 2007 mean so much to me. I love going back into our archives, too, and just randomly surfing through those past entries and videos, reliving those first years together or when the girls were babies. It goes by so fast.
Martin: Julie made this video for our daughter that showed what it was like to be a military child. It makes me tear up every time I see it. She included the video I took of her saying goodbye to our daughter when she deployed. (For My Military Brat – With Love)
Julie: That is probably my most emotional video I ever posted. People see videos of deployment homecomings all the time, but that’s only a brief glimpse of what being a military family is all about. I wanted to honor what my daughter went through that summer, and also show how growing up a military kid, and being a military parent, is a challenging, but pretty cool experience.
How long has your servicemember served and for how long have you been a military spouse?
Julie: I enlisted in the active duty Air Force in January 2000, which really doesn’t seem that long ago. I left active duty in June 2009, and I am now a technical sergeant (E-6) in the Air Force Reserve. It’s crazy to think it’s been 11 years total now.
Martin: Technically, I’ve been a military spouse for nine years since we married in April 2002. But when I met Julie in 1999, she told me she was joining the Air Force. I was visiting her in the United States that summer when she went to the recruiter’s station, helped her study for her ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude) test, and we wrote back and forth while she was in basic training.
Julie: I still have those letters!
Martin: It feels like I’ve been a spouse much longer since I was there at the beginning.
Has your servicemember deployed?
Julie: I deployed as a combat correspondent in 2007. I was on a three-man news team that traveled around Iraq and Afghanistan, documenting various missions through photography, articles and video.
Martin: That was a hard time for us. She traveled a lot, so I didn’t know where she was on any given day. That was a really terrible summer in regards to the bombings and deaths. I couldn’t watch the news because it just made me feel sick. As a former German soldier, I knew Julie was in a stressful situation, but she was trained. Her team had really good people on it. I still worried, though. But I couldn’t dwell on it. I focused on keeping busy for our daughter and doing my best to update our site so when Julie could access a computer, she could see that we were missing her, but doing well. And whenever she posted, I knew she was doing okay, too.
Julie: Our website was really a godsend during that time, even though it took a lot of effort to keep it going. At the time, military leadership shut off all access to a lot of the social networking sites, yet I was still able to post to our site through email, and I had subscribed to the email feed, so that’s how Martin and I kept up with each other. And it kept our friends and family informed, too. They were so eager to show their support for us in so many ways. I posted once that I really missed baking and eating fresh brownies, and within a week, I had care packages full of those microwavable brownie mixes. The night I posted from Iraq about one of the mortar attacks my team experienced, our neighbors in Virginia came to the house to check on Martin, just to reach out to him and let him know they were thinking of us. It was so touching, being enveloped by that support.
What are the challenges of being a military spouse?
Martin: Time management. She’s in the Reserve now, so her absences are a lot more predictable. I know she’ll be gone for one weekend a month and there will be some weeks here and there when she’s gone. When she was active duty, it was the same, just trying to keep a routine while being flexible.
Julie: I would also say establishing his career was a struggle, too. As most military spouses know, the military lifestyle makes it very hard for spouses to keep a good career track.
Martin: That, too. It was hard at first. I left the Bundeswehr as a tank commander so that Julie and I could stay together. I wanted to go into accounting and banking as my civilian job, but we were overseas and there are so few jobs for spouses, especially if you aren’t an American citizen eligible for a government job. I was able to do some volunteer work as an accountant for the base thrift shop. That helped. When we moved to the states, it was much easier to find a good banking job.
Julie: But even then, Martin was always the one who took the sick days when our daughter got sick. Any classes or work-related events had to be made around my military schedule. And of course, whenever I was gone, he was doing everything himself. I’m proud of the way he handled it all and how well he’s done. And I’m encouraged that spouses are getting more recognition and support now for their careers, that more programs are being offered so spouses can have steady careers, too.
What are the best parts of being a military spouse?
Martin: Seeing my wife in uniform.
Martin: Okay, that’s only a little joke. She looks sharp in her uniform with her rank and her ribbons and medals. I know the hard work it took to get those. I remember when she didn’t have any rank on her sleeve and that little ribbon for basic training. She has accomplished a lot and I am proud of her.
Julie: I’m going to add that we’ve always enjoyed connecting with other military families.
Martin: A lot of our best friends are people who were stationed with us. I also like meeting retirees and former military brats. It’s like being part of a club with a special language. Anyone who served in the military or lived the lifestyle knows what it is like.
Julie: Our lives are richer because of our military service: the places we’ve been to, the people we’ve met, the experiences.
What is the most interesting, unusual, or funny thing that has happened to you as a result of being a military spouse?
Julie: I thought it was funny that the first time Martin attended a spouses club meeting, they were having a pajama party theme.
Martin: That was bad timing. It was one of those things where they hadn’t had a male spouse attend a meeting in over a year and then I just showed up, a newlywed and new to the base. We had a good laugh. They were very welcoming.
Julie: Aviano had a great spouses group when we were there. They did so much for us and the community.
Martin: My most unusual moment as a spouse was picking up fried chicken for Kid Rock before his concert at Ramstein. Julie was his military liaison while on base and she brought me along that day. So his bodyguard and I went to pick up the chicken and biscuits. Then all of us drove back to his hotel room to eat. That is something you don’t experience every day.
To what extent have blogging and social networking affected the military spouse experience?
Julie: When we started our site, there was no Facebook or Twitter. Unless they also had a family site or blog we could follow, we really only kept in touch with old military friends through occasional emails or our annual Christmas card mailing list.
Martin: I now get daily comments from people who were stationed with us overseas. It is easier to keep up with their lives now.
Julie: And the networking helped a great deal when I left active duty. Former colleagues and friends were quick to send me advice and job leads. It made the whole transition to civilian/Reserve life a lot easier. Blogging and maintaining relationships through social networking have opened so many doors for us.
If someone you care about was about to marry a military servicemember, what one piece of advice would you give?
Julie: A good friend of ours just recently got engaged to an Army soldier. It was funny because as soon as she told me, I went into military supervisor mode and made sure she was aware of all the paperwork and in-processing she’s going to face as she enrolls in DEERS and gets an ID card and becomes familiar with all the programs the military offers family members. It can get overwhelming. If it weren’t for other military couples reaching out to help us navigate all those processes, we would have been completely lost.
Martin: My advice is to avoid becoming isolated, especially during a deployment or separation. Ask for help if you need it. Become friends with other military spouses. And don’t lose your sense of humor.